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Activist investor wins Exxon board seats in day of reckoning for big oil

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Activist investor fund Engine No. 1 was victorious today in Exxon’s annual shareholder meeting on Wednesday.

Engine No. 1, small though it may be, was successful in obtaining at least two board seats at the oil giant after a devastating battle over Exxon’s board of directors. The vote on a third Engine No. 1-supported candidate is for now undecided, as it is too close to call. Engine No. 1 proved unsuccessful in its fourth candidate.

Engine No. 1 holds just a $54 million stake in Exxon.

Exxon, for its part, managed to get eight of its nominees on the board. There are twelve spots.

The win is being viewed as a shocking and powerful statement by shareholders as to their displeasure with the oil giant for not doing enough to mitigate the effects of its business on the climate. And For Exxon, it could mean big changes are coming.

Engine No. 1 nominated and threw its support behind four candidates, and managed to get other large pension funds in its corner in supporting those candidates. Funds supporting Engine No. 1’s candidates include New York State Common Retirement Fund, California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS), and California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CSTRS).

“We called for change at ExxonMobil, and a record number of shareholders, including many of the largest investors in the world, voted to hold the company accountable,” CalSTRS said in a statement on its website following the vote.

The candidates that Engine No. 1 had put forward were directors that had experience in energy industry transformation, who would factor climate change risks in a long-term business plan
instead of “just talking points”.

For Exxon, those “talking points” include $3 billion in carbon capture research and emissions-cutting technology as well as electing an ESG investor to its board in March.  Today’s vote suggests that this was not enough for shareholders.

Before Wednesday’s vote, some analysts were suggesting that Exxon CEO Darren Woods may be unable to hold onto his position as CEO should any of Engine No. 1’s candidates prove to be successful in solidifying a seat on the oil giant’s board.

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